How Did the Baby Change Your Life?

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One last look this time around

Brrrrr!  It’s so cold outside.  So today while staying snug inside I read and thought one more time on the Christmas story which we have just observed.  Now it’s time to move forward and begin thinking about spring and about the resurrection story.

But one writer I read during the Christmas season still speaks to me.

…the Christmas story is not just for observing, but for participating.  A long time ago, Jesus Christ was born.  But today, Christ is born in us.  And so we would be wise to spend some time wondering with the sheep and the shepherds, how does this baby change my life?

Sarah Cunningham

For 2017 – how has this baby changed your life?

 

Reflections on Christmas – Now that it’s over!

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Planning for Christmas

For weeks we have been planning for Christmas.  Looking for bargains, some even gave up their Thanksgiving evening to fight the crowds on “Black Friday.”  Family recipes were pulled out of the drawer, decorations out of the basement or attic.  Children were excited as they made out their Christmas wish list.  Churches were busy planning special observations on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

The day comes and goes.  Busy adults breathe a sign of relief and begin the task of taking down the tree and its ornaments, putting all the decorations back in the basement or attic until next year.  Children enjoy their new toys although some are probably already bored and ready for the next new toy on the market.

School opens again and workers return to their jobs many complaining of how tired they are and how hectic the Christmas season has been.  Grandparents are thankful for the memories they made with their families over the holiday but glad to get back to their quiet routine.

Life goes on as always……has anything changed?

Response of Shepherds and those who heard their story

Reading the Christmas story this year I was struck by the scripture in Luke where he tells of the shepherds’ visit to the stable where baby Jesus laid.  The shepherds excitedly told Joseph and Mary about the visit of the angels and their message that the Messiah had been born that night in Bethlehem.    Apparently they also told the people in the village.  Luke tells us that all who heard their story were astonished.

I can imagine that was quite an experience for the shepherds and the people in the village. They probably talked about that night for years to come, telling their children of the visit from the angels.  No doubt there was many a discussion as to what happened to that child when his family suddenly left Bethlehem for Egypt.

But was there any change?

I wonder – did they search the scriptures to see what they had to say about the Messiah?  Did they seek to know more of God?  Or, was it just an exciting experience to talk about around the campfires at night as they continued to watch their sheep?  When Jesus appeared on the scene almost 30 years later, did they question if he was the little babe born in Bethlehem?

We celebrate Christmas

So today we make a big production of Christmas.  You can always count on people saying “Keep Christ in Christmas” and complaining of those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  But what about keeping Christ in our lives all year long.  What does saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” really do if we go back to our normal life after Christmas content that we “kept Christ in Christmas’?  Did our reflection on the Christmas story make any difference in our day-to-day lives?

Mary’s response

Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.” This was not just an exciting night to be celebrated now and then.  This was a daily part of Mary’s life.  Can you imagine the sense of responsibility and great concern she felt that she and her husband were to raise the Son of God?  Did she totally understand what that meant? And the words of Simon who told her a sword would pierce her own heart had to make her pause and wonder what the future would hold – for her – for Joseph – and especially for her son.

Mary pondered – thought – on all these things.  I wonder how much we ponder and think about the Christmas story and what it really means after the holiday is over.  The Christmas story is old and well-known to us, but after the observation of Christmas is over, has it made any difference in our lives?

I Don’t Do Cookies!

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It’s that time of year!

All over the country mothers and grandmothers are busy in the kitchen baking cookies with their kids and grandkids.  On Facebook I see post after post of beautifully decorated cookies and smiling faces of children with their mother as they happily put their special touch on the cookies made to look like snowmen and angels and reindeer.  So many creative women out there making wonderful memories with their children.

Then there’s me.  Mother of the year – NOT!

When my girls were little I wanted to be that mother who makes such memories for her children by following that tradition of making cookies for Christmas.  I got out my cookbooks and looked for recipes that said “easy to make.”  All excited, I brought my little girls into the kitchen, sat them up at the counter and explained how we would start our own tradition and have these wonderful bonding moments making memories to last a lifetime.

We followed the recipe and put the cookies in the oven.  When the timer went off, we eagerly opened the door expecting to have these wonderful cookies to decorate.  The cookies were a disaster.  They looked burned to a crisp.

Not one to give up easily, we made a new batch and tried again this time taking them out earlier.  The cookies were still a disaster.  This time they were gluey and clearly not done completely in the middle.

We pressed on!

I tried valiantly several times to make Christmas cookies before I finally accepted the fact that I don’t do cookies.  No matter what recipe I used, no matter how hard I tried, my cookies were always too hard, too soft, overdone, under-cooked.  In other words, I don’t do cookies.

I make a mean apple pie.  At family gatherings, my kids and grandkids always ask for my banana pudding or peach cobbler.  My husband requests my black forest cake and it is always a hit at potlucks or parties.  But cookies?  I don’t do cookies!

Hopefully my daughters were not scarred by being the only kids in the family who did not make Christmas cookies with their mother.  Hopefully my grandchildren have not felt disappointed that Grandma never had plates of delicious, beautiful decorated cookies to eat at Christmas time.

Papa to the rescue!

This year my husband has come to my rescue.  He makes wonderful jumbo raisin cookies using his mother’s recipe.  When my youngest granddaughter came over today he took her into the kitchen and patiently helped her crack eggs, toast walnuts and showed her how to make cookies.

Papa makes the best cookies in the world!

Sampling the cookies when they came out of the oven looking just right, my granddaughter declared, “Papa makes the best cookies in the world!”  She was right.  They are delicious!

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We made other memories!

Despite my total lack of cookie-baking ability, I know my girls and I made other good memories at Christmas time.

  • Wooden Christmas decorations we painted one year that they still have on their tree
  • Watching the movie, “Popeye”
  • Snuggling in bed and reading the “Ugly Joke Book”
  • Decorating the tree

So as I look at all the Facebook posts of beautiful Christmas cookies, I thank God for all those mothers out there making memories.  But I want to encourage those mothers whose house does not look like it was decorated by Good Housekeeping, whose cookies are a flop, and whose Christmas presents are not elegantly wrapped.

Just love your children and laugh with them.  Cookies or not, they will love you too and treasure their Christmas memories.

A Surprise Christmas Card

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A dear friend died this week.  My husband and I had watched him battle cancer (two different kinds) for over two years.  It was hard to see him slowly lose the battle.  He fought hard and he never lost his courage or his great sense of humor.

His family asked my husband to do the funeral service.  It was an extremely hard thing for Paul to do.  They had been friends for almost 20 years.  In the very beginning of their friendship, I had surgery for breast cancer.  The cancer was very advanced and my husband was  frightened as his mother had died from breast cancer.  Richard came to the hospital and sat with my husband through my surgery and did not leave until I was out of recovery.  That cemented their friendship.

That – and their love of golf and corny jokes.  Although they claimed they played golf, I think from listening to their tales that they spend more time laughing at each other’s skills than they did actually playing the game.

After my retirement, I often joined the two of them for breakfast.  It was such fun to just sit and listen to them as they teased one another and shared stories of their time on the golf course.

While it was hard for my husband to do the funeral service, he was honored that the family said that was what Richard would want.  As we arrived at the funeral home, his daughters handed us an envelope.  On the outside it said, “Paul and his bride.”  That was how Richard always referred to me – “Paul’s bride.”  When Paul and Richard met, if I was not present, he would always ask, “How is your bride?”  The handwriting on the outside was clearly not Richard’s.  So we assume it was just a card saying thank you for doing the service.

When we opened the card it was a Christmas card.  Thinking it was a little strange that his daughters were giving us a Christmas card, we opened it up.  My heart skipped a beat as I saw the signature inside the card.  It said simply, “Richard.”  We immediately recognized his signature.  Also enclosed was a picture of him.

His daughters told us although Richard never sent Christmas cards, just before his death he asked them to get him some Christmas cards.  He then signed a few and asked them to give them to his special friends at his funeral.  He knew he would not be here for Christmas and he wanted us to know what our friendship had meant to him.

This is a special card my husband and I will treasure forever.

Merry Christmas Richard!

 

 

 

I Hate Waiting!

Waiting….having patience…not easy for me.

In our culture I would guess it is not easy for most of us.  We pull up to the fast food place ready to give our order and if we have to wait more than a few seconds before we hear the words, “Can I help you?”  we start complaining.  “Come on!  I’m in a hurry!”

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We look for dinners in the store that can be popped in the microwave and be ready in two or three minutes.

We have “instant” coffee, “instant breakfast drinks” and now stores are offering “instant credit.”

Our spending habits reflect that also.  We want it now, we do not have the money now, so we charge it now and pay later.  Unfortunately for many of us, when “later” comes, we still do not have the money.  Waiting is not something we find easy.

But for a Christian, waiting is part of our faith.  In the Old Testament, they waited year after year for the Messiah to come.  In the New Testament, we wait for the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In this first week of Advent we focus on that waiting, that longing.  As we reflect back on the longing of the Israelites as they awaited the coming of their Messiah and see the fulfillment of that longing, we can rejoice that God is faithful.  What He says He will do….He will do.

Over 400 scriptures and prophecies tell us of His birth, life, death, resurrection and His return as conquering King.  As we read those scriptures and see how Jesus fulfilled them, we are assured that God has a plan for His people.

And as surely as He brought the promise of the Messiah to fruition, we can rest assured that the promise of His return in glory will also be fulfilled.

So – this first week of Advent, I am preparing my heart to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and remind myself to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of His return.

As Isaiah said when speaking of the ministry of the Messiah,

Prepare the way of the Lord

I seek to prepare my heart for the Messiah.  It is not easy to do that in our culture.  We have made Christmas such a busy time that often we are guilty of having “no room” in our hearts, in our lives for the one the holiday is all about.

My husband and I have been blessed by the responsibility of planning our church’s Christmas Eve service.  How surprised I have been at the people who told me they could not help or would not be there because they had other obligations.  Not meaning to be guilty of being a Pharisee or judging, but I have to wonder just how much we have made this season about everything except the Messiah.  Shopping, decorating, baking, parties.  All of these are not bad, but I pray that in all of this, I will not lose sight of what it is really about.  I pray that I will take the time to prepare the way of the Lord in my own life.

And I seek to be patient as I wait for the fulfillment of his glorious return.

 

 

 

 

First Christmas vs Our Christmas Now!

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Christmas!  What a magical time!  We decorate our homes with trees, candles, wreaths.  We put out a nativity set and hang up an angel or two.  We plan gatherings with family and friends where there will be presents and lots of delicious food to eat.  Everything is so neat and tidy – so beautiful.   It’s truly a joyous time as we celebrate our Savior’s birth and greet one another with “Merry Christmas!”

Our Christmas cards show scenes of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and they look so beautiful and so peaceful.   Many of the cards show bright lights shining above the heads of Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus.  Even our Christmas carols speak of a litMV5BMTgwOTI4NDU2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MjY0NA@@__V1_UY100_CR25,0,100,100_AL_tle baby who makes no crying.

But how far from that first Christmas have we come?  Was it really beautiful, calm and peaceful to Mary and Joseph and those who played a role in that first Christmas?

 

Mary’s Story

How must Mary have first felt when the angel appeared to her with those amazing words:  “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”   Name Him Jesus – “Savior”

Because we know how the story ends, we think “What a honor to be chosen to bear the Son of God.  What great news this was.”

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But put yourself in Mary’s place for a moment.  How frightening it would be to say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, I’m pregnant but I’m still a virgin.  This child I bear has been conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

And how would she face Joseph?  He would know he was not the father.    What would he say?  Would he still marry her?  Would he bring her before the community to be stoned?

What about the child?  Would gossip follow him as he played and grew in the village?

Mary’s dream of marriage to Joseph and a wonderful life suddenly looked as if it would be shattered.  Mary had to decide – “Do I trust God?”

Her decision was a matter of trust.  She  responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”   Later Mary expressed how blessed she realized she was as she spoke to her cousin Elizabeth and said, ” “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!   For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.   For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.

Joseph’s Story

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And what about Joseph?  A simple carpenter engaged to a young woman in the village, Joseph no doubt was making plans for his soon-to-be bride and the family they would someday have.   Looking forward with anticipation to their wedding, he is suddenly hit with the news that his future bride is pregnant.

What sorrow he must have felt as he believed Mary had been unfaithful to him.  What agony as he struggled with the decision he faced.  Should he publicly denounce her – maybe even see her stoned?  Should he, could he forgive her ?   Although his heart was breaking, all his hopes and dreams were crushed, he was a godly and kind man.

As he thought about what to do, an angel appeared to him and said,  “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.  For the  child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.   And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!   She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,  which means ‘God is with us.’”

While no doubt  Joseph rejoiced at this news, he had to have also been filled with thoughts of great apprehension.  What a tremendous responsibility he was given – to raise the Son of God!  Like Mary, he had to make a decision to totally trust God and welcome Emmanuel into his home.

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And then the journey to Bethlehem.   How appropriate that the One who would say “I am Bread of Life” would be born in a city whose meaning is “house of bread.”  And in Micah, 5 the prophet foretold that the Messiah would come from this small and insignificant town of Bethlehem.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,  are only a small village among all the people of Judah.  Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past,  will come from you on my behalf.

Luke tells us:    “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

Imagine traveling 90 miles over unpaved, hilly trails with Mary in the late weeks of her pregnancy riding on a donkey and Joseph leading on foot.  Bible scholars estimate that they would have probably only been able to make 10 miles a day because of Mary’s impending delivery.  There could be threats of bandits along the trail.  They had to carry their own provisions.

The hardships did not end when they arrived in Bethlehem.  We think of Mary and Joseph alone in the stable  but it is possible that they shared that stable with others.  In an overcrowded Bethlehem they were probably not the only ones who could find no room in the inn.

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And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.  She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manager, because there was no lodging available for them.

 

 

The Shepherds’ Story

And what of the shepherds?  If you had been given the responsibility to announce the birth of the Messiah, who would you have chosen to tell?   Would you have selected a group of people who spent most of their days in the fields with the sheep and had no influence with society?  Shepherds were the blue-collar workers largely unnoticed by those in authority.

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That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  See the excitement with which the shepherds received this news and hurried to find the child.

The Wise Men’s Story

And what of the wise men.  Matthew tells us

“About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.   King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:  ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”  After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

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The Wise Men traveled many miles to worship the King of the Jews.  They did not hop a plane and arrive at Bethlehem in a few hours.  They did not pack their SUV with food and drink and drive a few days across the interstate.  Their journey required many days riding through the desert on the back of camels, stopping to sleep at night in their tents.  It was not an easy journey, but they came eagerly seeking to worship the King.

What is the real purpose of Christmas?

Now we come to the real purpose of Christmas.  The story of Christmas is only the beginning – unless it leads us to the cross and the empty tomb, it has lost its real purpose.

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“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

First Christmas – and our Christmas now!

  • That first Christmas required Mary and Joseph to totally trust God and accept His plans for their lives.  To believe the words of the angel, Gabriel, and accept God’s will for  their lives.  This Christmas, are you trusting God, are you willing to accept His plans for your life?
  • That first Christmas the shepherds received the good news of the child’s birth with great joy and hurried to find the child.  Today is our excitement at Christmas more focused on the presents, the decorations, the meals, the parties?  Are we still excited about the good news that  “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace?
  • That first Christmas the leading priests and teachers knew the prophecy….knew God’s Word.  Yet, they made no effort to go to Bethlehem to check out this story of the Messiah.  The Wise Men traveled a great distance – but the religious leaders could not be bothered to travel the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  As we enjoy this Christmas season with all our decorations, food and gatherings with family and friends, let us be sure that we take time to really seek the Messiah.  Let’s ask God to return us to the simple but awesome truth of that first Christmas in a dark, possibly cold, stable where two young people faced the awesome challenge of raising the Son of God without money, fame or lots of support simply trusting and obeying the Father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Keep Christ in Christmas by our actions rather than our words!

I posted this list last year – but would like to share again – as you are shopping don’t forget those who are less fortunate than you!

For everyone concerned about “keeping Christ in Christmas” instead of worrying rather some pagan says “Merry Christmas” let’s really “keep Christ in Christmas” by what we do rather than what we say.

Ten Terrific Gifts for Christmas

  1. For just $35 you can help bring a safe playground to a Compassion child development center.
  2. For just $40 you can help provide textbooks and learning materials that children can access at their child development center.
  3. For just $18 you can help a child prevent malaria with an insecticide-treated bed net, plus training for his or her family to avoid the mosquito bites that cause this disease.
  4. For just $79 you can help provide a safe water filtration system so that a family in poverty can have clean water.
  5. For just $100 you can provide a bicycle for a child in need, to ensure that he/she has a safe, efficient way to attend school.
  6. For just $30 you can ensure that a child receives immediate, physical spiritual, emotional support at a Compassion center while they wait to be sponsored.
  7. For just $42 you can provide chickens so that parents can become self-sufficient which leads to healthier children.
  8. For just $14 you can provide a mother and child with food and nutritional supplements, for one month helping ensure adequate weight and better health.  You can provide that care for an entire year for just $168.
  9. For $13 you can help a malnourished child with food and medicine in an area plagued by food shortage.
  10. For just $30 you can help fill the gap of critical, unexpected situations for children and their families registered with Compassion, including emergency medical care, support following disasters and protection from abuse.

Check it out!  Compassion Inc

Compassion.com/gifts

Matthew 25:40 – And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the